Early morning. The sun came up only moments ago. Its rays are yet to pierce through the fog.
I am by the side of river Vaitarna, in Palghar. With a bunch of people who have come here to understand its ecology. People working in NGOs. Those who care about the planet and also want to do something about it.
I do. But that is not why I am here.
I am here for nothing. Only nothing. And only a few understand how it is a special kind of ‘thing’. Perhaps the best kind. Or the worst.
The river looks magical. It’s my first time here. And you know how first times are. They make everything magical. I don’t know that Vaitarna is one of the most polluted rivers in India, though. Yet.
I just enjoy its breeze… as the sun tardily comes up. As it exhumes its night-induced fog over its still surface. The pleasures of ignorance. Sigh…
After a few yards, I see nothing. I try. I want to see what is beyond the white. I squint my eyes. But can’t.
And out of nowhere, it befalls me… that I have seen it somewhere. The same wavering sheet of misty vapours. The same wisps of smoke over still water, going up and down, dancing back and forth.
In my mind, maybe, I saw it. Yes, I imagined it once – when I was reading a book. A river through a dense forest. People on it. And fog.
I stand on the steamer. Fog all around. Arrows coming from nowhere and everywhere… An arrow grazes past me. Another kills my helmsman. I am in the dark. In the heart of darkness.
O yes, that’s the name of the text – Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. My first novel on ‘Africa’.
A book is a book when it is written by a white man. But when it is written by an African or a South-Asian writer, it needs to have its own special tag – South Asian writer. African writer. Categories.
And now, an epiphany. A queer realisation. And with it, the completion of a book.
I didn’t get it whole when I read it. Once, twice, three times. HORROR, HORROR. Everyone was talking about it then. From Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece to T.S. Eliot in his ‘The Hollow Men‘. I had to write papers on it. Post-colonialism, English literature. Such things.
But the book was never completed for me, then. Maybe I never liked post-colonialism as a field of study. I could never digest that the course which was making me study post-colonialism also categorised western literature as “literature” and Indian literature as “Indian literature”.
Today, it has got a new meaning for me. When I am beside my own Congo. Yes, Vaitarna, one of the most polluted rivers in India, ends up being my personal Congo.
My feet in water touch something slippery. I hold it between my toes. A plastic sheet.
I bend and pick it up – it’s a washing powder wrapper, trying its best to break away from the barrage of stones in its way.
When I realise that I’ve been staring at it for long, I place it on a stone, looking sideways to see if someone saw me. I want to be noticed. Others should know I conserved the planet.
I think: Heart of Darkness, or any book on colonisation for that matter, is not just about colonisation of the powerless at the hands of the materially powerful. It is about the colonisation of Nature by humans.
This is not a unique realisation, I know. Many have written theses on it. Eco-criticism. Eco-feminism. Everything has an ‘eco’ in front of it now. Eco-factories. Eco-death. Eco-smoke.
A shoal of little black fish, move with the limpid waves of a Vaitarna still wrapped in a curtain of fog. My feet are in it. I want a net so that I can catch them and say, “I caught a fish today.” Something only the rich can afford to do.
Only the rich can afford the bounties of nature. Whole beaches in their name, while the middle class live in sh**. Capitalism putting a price tag on everything. Same old thing.
I put my body on the stones, my arms on my eyes and drift… to an uneventful sleep.
Nachi Keta is a neurodiverse writer from New Delhi whose work focuses on mental health, oppression and the absurd in social and personal.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty